By BRETT LANEY
ATLANTA – It invented the chicken sandwich, but it also invented a different type of restaurant experience. Chick-fil-A has set itself apart in the business world with its customer service model, its commitment to leadership values and its dedication to quality.
Second-mile service is what Chick-fil-A calls its customer service model. The name comes from a Biblical passage in Matthew 5, in which Jesus teaches that if someone forces you to walk a mile with him, to walk two miles. In the fast food world, this looks like doing more than what is required of the average employee.
“You can go to McDonald’s or KFC or Zaxby’s, and you can get generally good service,” said Jake Dudley, 26, a seven-year employee of a Chick-fil-A restaurant. “You get free refills. They say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, and generally you have a good experience. Well Chick-fil-A decided they wanted to go the second mile. It’s really easy to give someone a good experience, but how do we give someone a great experience?”
Second-mile service includes saying “my pleasure” instead of just “thank you” and asking, “May I refresh your beverage?” instead of asking if the customer wants a refill. Second-mile service looks like carrying trays to the table for a mother with several children and a stroller or for an elderly couple that is having trouble moving quickly. It looks like an employee, also known as a team member, going out into the dining room and asking about the customers’ experiences and refreshing their beverages. It can even look like walking customers out to their cars when it is raining outside.
“The way that we are similar to other fast food restaurants,” said Dudley, “is that we are committed to quick service, but where we are separated from other fast food restaurants is that I don’t think that Chick-fil-A is fast food. I would consider Chick-fil-A to be a service as opposed to a food, because they’re more committed to the customer.”
The same standard carries through to Chick-fil-A’s corporate office.
“Learning about corporate, I just realized that I’m really passionate about the Chick-fil-A culture,” said Nicole Spaulding, 23, project coordinator for the Training and Operating Standards Department at Chick-fil-A Corporate. “What that means to me is that it’s not about money and it’s not about selling a chicken sandwich, it’s about people.”
Chick-fil-A’s business model also looks a little different than the average business. Each Chick-fil-A restaurant is a franchise but still functions as a corporate store. The operator, or owner, of the restaurant has the freedom to do as much or as little in the community as they want, but they still operate under the standard of the corporate policy.
“Everything’s fresh,” said Dudley. “The chicken is real chicken breast. It is breaded in-house and there’s a special blend. Even down to the pressure cookers, there’s a certain amount of pressure and it’s cooked for a certain amount of time. The products, like the breading and the milk wash, involve a very particular process that if it is altered in any way, the food doesn’t taste as it was intended to taste. That process is very particular because Chick-fil-A is committed to quality.”
It is committed to quality service, quality products and also quality employees. Its application process is lengthy and involves several interviews and asks questions about the applicant’s values, character and goals. Once hired, corporate employees are encouraged to improve every pillar of their lives.
It encourages physical growth with a fully staffed fitness facility and a 5K race series. It encourages spiritual growth with optional group devotionals and prayer every Monday morning at the home office. It encourages mental growth by giving employees books on leadership and encourages relational, emotional growth by facilitating time off for families by being closed on Sundays.
So whether in the corporate office or in the restaurants, Chick-fil-A is dedicated to happy customers and happy employees.
“A lot of the things that I know about leadership and customer service,” said Dudley, “[is] how to treat people, not just because it’s my job but because it’s how people deserve to be treated, comes from how Chick-fil-A models how they treat people.”